digestion Food intolerances functional testing Gut health gut microbiome SIBO

What do our stools tell us about our health?

It’s not something people talk about much, if at all, but our stools can tell us a lot about our health. If you flush the toilet and never look back then this article is not for you. But if you’ve ever wondered what your stool can tell you about the inner workings of your body read on….

Pale stools:

This is a sign that bile is not flowing from your gall bladder to contribute to the digestion process. If your stools are often pale it is likely that you are not absorbing fats and fat-soluble nutrients and need some support to get bile flowing again. Fat soluble nutrients are vital to immune and brain health. Bile flow often becomes sluggish on a low-fat diet or during periods of illness and fasting. Magnesium deficiency or lack of stomach acid secretions can also be a factor. Sometimes gall stones prevent the flow of bile, if you feel some discomfort just under your ribs on your right side consider speaking to your GP.

White-stuff in stool:

There are several possibilities to explain the presence of white-stuff in your poo. It could be something you have eaten and not digested properly. If it looks like grains of white rice or thread it could be pinworms. These are very common, especially in children and can be treated with an over the counter medication from your pharmacist. Other signs of pinworms include and itchy anus, especially at nighttime. If pinworms keep returning and causing symptoms you could consider looking at the rest of the bacteria in your gut to see if there are enough beneficial bacteria to keep them in check.

Another possibility is longer, flat white pieces in the stool could be tapeworm. Likewise, a whole-gut approach is the best way to gain control over intestinal worms.

Lastly, thin, white, mucus-like strands could indicate a yeast or candida issue. If you also have symptoms like athletes foot, thrush, a white coated tongue and sugar cravings then this could be a possibility.

Pebble-like stools:

This is a common sign of constipation. Stools should be long and smooth. Consider increasing water and vegetable intake. You can add a tablespoon of linseeds to a glass of water, leave to oak for 30 minutes and then drink it all on an empty stomach. This can help deliver water and fibre to your colon and encourage bowel movements.

If your bowel movements are always sluggish despite plenty of water and vegetables and you generally feel fatigued and struggle with weight loss – it might be worth getting your thyroid function checked with your GP. Low thyroid function can slow down bowel transit time.

You may have received a diagnosis of IBS-C (IBS with constipation as the dominant symptom), this is an umbrella term that basically tells you your digestion isn’t working properly. With the right diet and supplements bowel function can return to normal.

Sandy/grainy stools:

Grainy-looking stools can be a sign of oxalate crystals being dumped in the stool. Oxalates can be produced by our bodies and are also present in foods. Foods high in oxalates include cocoa, spinach, potatoes and nuts. Oxalates can lodge in body tissues and cause pain and inflammation. Unexplained muscle/joint pain and urinary issues can be related to oxalate problems. If these symptoms sound familiar, you might benefit from a low oxalate diet. You can test oxalate metabolite levels in the urine with an Organic Acid Test.

Parasites in stools:

Parasites in stools can be difficult to spot. The GO Effects test is a stool test run by Genova Diagnostics. They use technology to detect the DNA of parasites in the stool. Most parasites are only expelled in the stool when undertaking a nutritional programme to target them specifically. It is during this programme that one might see evidence of parasites or worms (see white-stuff in stool above). Some of the larger parasites are worms and can be spotted in the stool and sometimes liver flukes appear looking like the skin of a tomato.  Other parasites like blastocystis hominis, giardia and d. fragilis may not be seen in the stool by the naked eye.

Parasites can be picked up from overseas travel and food poisoning. If you have travelled overseas and had issues with digestion at that point or from then, or similarly never fully recovered normal stools/digestion after food poisoning then this is something worth looking into. It is important to remember that it is by having a diverse and healthy gut flora and well-functioning immune system that you will be able to keep parasites from causing problems.

Dark stools:

Iron supplements can cause stools to appear dark, almost black in colour. Check your current supplements to see if they contain iron. Another possibility is that there may be some bleeding in the upper part of your digestive system, perhaps from an ulcer or inflammation in the stomach. You should visit your GP who can advise on further testing.

Loose stools:

Regular loose stools, although often defined as IBS can indicate specific issues with your digestive system. It is likely that you are low in digestive secretions that help your to process your food. You can work with a Nutrition Practitioner to restore digestion and normal bowel movements. It is also a strong possibility that you are consuming a food that you are intolerant to.

Green(ish) stools:

Green poo occurs when food has moved quickly through your digestive system. This is usually because your digestive system has been aggravated, this can be related to food intolerances. It is often accompanied  by mucus in the stool. Also, do a quick check that you didn’t have a spinach smoothie that morning (or the morning before) as this can also lead to green poo – although this is usually a darker green and doesn’t involve mucus.

If you have concerns about your stools or digestion get in touch with us. We can help you identify the issues and put together a programme to help you get back on track.

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Sarah is a clinical nutritionist specialising in mental wellbeing and the gut-brain connection.

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